Anamorphic Widescreen – A process by which a widescreen image is compressed horizontally to fit into a storage medium with a narrower aspect ratio. Compatible playback equipment can then re-expand the horizontal dimension to show the original widescreen image. This is typically used to allow one to store widescreen images on a medium that was original intended for a narrower ratio, while using as much of the frame – and therefore recording as much detail – as possible.
The technique originally comes from cinema. A film would be framed and recorded as widescreen, but the picture would be “squashed together” using a specially crafted concave lens to fit into non-widescreen 1.37:1 aspect ratio film. This film can then be printed and manipulated like any other 1.37:1 film stock, although the images on it will appear to be squashed horizontally (elongated vertically) as in a fun house mirror. An anamorphic lens on the projector in the cinema (a convex lens) corrects the picture by performing exactly the opposite distortion, returning it to its original width and its widescreen aspect ratio.
The anamorphic lens on the projector is a specially crafted convex lens that corrects the picture so that the images on the screen look normal. The optical scaling of the lens to a film medium is considered more desirable than the digital counterpart, due to the amount of non-proportional pixel decimated scaling that is applied to the width of an image to achieve (somewhat a misnomer) a so-called “rectangular” pixel widescreen image. The legacy ITU Rec. 601 4:3 image size is used for its compatibility with the original video bandwidth that was available for professional video devices that used fixed clock rates of a SMPTE 259M serial digital interface. One would produce a higher quality upscaled 16:9 widescreen image by using either a 1:1 SD progressive frame size of 640×360 or for ITU Rec. 601 and SMPTE 259M compatibility a letterboxed frame size of 480i or 576i.
Similar operations are performed electronically to allow widescreen material to be stored on formats or broadcast on systems that assume a non-widescreen aspect ratio.